Building A Rightroots Movement Part 2
On Tuesday of last week, I wrote a piece called Building A Rightroots Movement that generated a lot of blog posts, emails, and instant messages. So, I wanted to do a follow-up post today to cover some of the things that have been brought up in the last few days,
I worked for Duncan Hunter’s campaign and have had a lot of other friends who have worked on campaigns. Here’s how it tends to break down:
1) Most campaigns know absolutely nothing about blogs and do nothing with them. So, they don’t have “blog guys.”
2) A few campaigns have “blog guys” who know nothing about blogs. I had one person I know complain to me that he was talking to a top campaign’s “blog guy” who had never heard of Hot Air or Instapundit. In other words, these campaigns know so little about blogging that they don’t even know how to hire people who do know something about it.
3) When you do get a quality “blog guy” on the campaign, they inevitably end up being an afterthought — the lowest person on the totem poll other than the interns. The campaign’s “blog guys” can generate donations, stories, grassroots interest, and a lot of good ideas for the campaign.
Personally, I think any senator or presidential candidate should have someone competent handling their blog work. Congressional candidates? Not so much, although some of the congressmen in high profile races could have benefitted from having someone working the blogosphere for them.
That being said, ironically, I’m not so sure that candidates actually need blogs. Campaigns tend to want to approve every post, they’re very careful with their messaging, and they’re very stuffy and formal in the way they communicate. That may be fine for the campaign, but when you apply that out to a blog, it typically makes it very boring.
Overall, state focused blogs haven’t really taken off in the blogosphere. Granted, there are a few who’ve made a difference in local races, but they have two huge disadvantages.
#1) They’re drawing on a much smaller audience pool than the bloggers who aren’t localized to one state.
#2) Because most of the big bloggers do write for a national audience, they don’t link stories on state blogs because most of their readers won’t be interested in them.
One way to try to get around that would be to have a large website that hosts state blogs from all fifty states, — but, I think if Obama gets in and the blogosphere takes off as a result (two big “if’s”), it may be possible for savvy, well connected independent operators to do stand-alone state blogs that pull in a large amount of local traffic.
Having some deep pocket conservatives funneling in some money for advertising would help a lot in that area as well, but even without that, it might be possible to make it work by contacting local Republican organizations, flyers, etc.
Just as a little side note, have you ever taken a look at Meetup.com? It’s a great website that allows people online to get together in real life.
I’ve looked at the political groups on meetup.com across multiple states and here’s what I’ve found.
* The biggest groups are Democratic or liberal groups.
* A size down from those groups, but still fairly large sized, are the Ron Paul groups.
* Then, considerably smaller than either of the two aforementioned groups, are the Republican, Libertarian, and (get ready for 2012) Mike Huckabee groups.
To me that’s just another symptom of a larger problem: conservatives are demoralized, depressed, and sick to death of being told to choose between the lesser of two evils — and that’s reflected in their level of online participation in just about everything.
Over at Rightwing Nuthouse, Rick Moran wrote this in response to Patrick Ruffini suggesting that bloggers act more like activists and try to raise money,
Ruffini seems to be saying that he wants bloggers who will shill for the cause. He appears to want bloggers who would subsume their independence and buy into the notion that the “primary purpose” of an individual’s blog is “to build political power for a cause.” That “cause” would be backing specific conservative candidates and issues.
One assumes this would be accomplished by adopting some of the online activist model created by the netroots – the most important in my opinion being the creation of online communities that I mention above. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this idea and I hope it is realized.
The problem, as Patrick mentions, is that many of us old mossbacks are stuck in 2003 and our blogging is unrelated to political activism, except in a roundabout way that presupposes our readers are forced to think about what we write and whose opinion might be altered because of the scintillating brilliance of our logic and reasoning.
You don’t have to be a shill or say anything you don’t believe to raise money for candidates. I mean, surely if you’re a right-of-center blogger, you must like SOME Republican candidates or support SOME conservative causes?
So, if you love a candidate, why not encourage people to chip in money to that person? If you support a cause, why not suggest that your readers pick up the phone to call Congress or help out?
Rick used the example of raising money for Fred Thompson and feeling compelled not to criticize him. Well, I raised money for Fred and didn’t have any problem criticizing the guy. Now, Duncan Hunter? It wasn’t the same ballgame because I worked for him. Even though they didn’t tell me what to write, I did refuse to criticize him until I left the campaign. But, consulting is — at least to an extent — shilling in a way that simply raising money for a candidate isn’t.
So, it can be done openly & honestly and I wish more conservatives were willing to walk the talk on this subject. Brilliant opinions are great, but they don’t make a whit of difference unless we can get people into office to implement them. Liberal blogs understand that in a way that not just most conservative blogs, but most conservative magazines, and most conservative talk show hosts don’t.
Over at the DC Examiner, Mark Tapscott made a great point,
“The RightRoots must make a top priority of equipping vastly more of our sites with the reportorial and investigative skills required to dig up and present credible exposes, fact-based analyses and concrete news stories.
In short, we’ve complained about liberal media bias for decades, but now that the mainstream media is steadily being displaced by online media, many of us need to become ….. journalists, or capable of doing the online analogy of traditional journalism, particularly in its investigative phase.”
However, there are some impediments to getting better in this area.
1) Most bloggers have full time jobs and lack the resources they need to do investigative journalism. Furthermore, the nature of blogging requires constant, daily updates. All these factors mean that getting embedded overseas or flying off to, let’s say, Ohio to cover an election fraud story isn’t possible in most cases.
2) Because a lot of blogger journalism comes from reader tips and expertise, you tend to see a lot of “speculative journalism.” In other words, people throw something out there that might be right and it might be wrong. They figure they’ll get traffic either way, right?
The good thing about this style of reporting is that even intuitive people with limited resources can break some big stories. The downside is that if people become overzealous, some very flaky stories can get put out and get a lot of circulation before they’re shot down.
3) Because blogs on the right still aren’t that big, even if they come up with a scoop, it may not go any further. Idle speculation on liberal blogs may make it into the mainstream media and get out to a wider audience, but because the MSM is liberal and there is so little cooperation between the different parts of the right, talk radio, big mags, the GOP, etc., an interesting story uncovered by blogs on the right is just as likely to die on the vine as to actually make it out to a wider audience.
Ace from Ace of Spades HQ is talking up candidate recruitment.
You know what we really need to promote? Grassroots candidate
recruitment. We gave up a couple of elections this cycle for want of
Think of all the military types (and doctors, and farmers, teachers, businessmen, etc.,) we reach. We have to convince them to put their hats in the ring in 2010.
I think this is a good idea in theory, but as a practical matter, I don’t know how to make this work. Since most blogs tend to be national, not local, I don’t really know how to find the best candidate in a particular area, get him funded, and get the locals to help to win.
If there’s a good way to do it, I’m on board to help, but I’m at a loss on how to make this happen.
One of the ideas that got the most attention in my initial post is the grant idea,
On the other hand, you could have one conservative donor with deep pockets who could hand out, let’s say, twenty $25,000 grants, for two years in a row, and they could double the size the blogosphere.
Well, there are a number of bloggers who could go full time if they could add $25,000 a year to the money they’re making off of advertising. There are other bloggers who could use that money to advertise their blogs. Some other people could use the money to recruit talent and do reporting. Given that the traffic in the blogosphere tends to be heavily concentrated in the top blogs, of which there are a relatively small number, you could see the size of those blogs dramatically increase with these grants.
James Joyner at Outside the Beltway responded,
This strikes me as rather problematic. For one thing, without conducting a formal census, I’m pretty sure there are more than twenty existing blogs. So, adding another twenty would not “double the size the blogosphere.” Even if the $25k was only a one-time deal, adding another forty wouldn’t do it, either.
First off, I know the “long tail” theory is very popular and you hear a lot of discussion about how there are millions and millions of blogs out there. However, if you define the “conservative blogosphere” as political blogs that have been posting at least once per day, five days a week, for at least three months and have more than say 100 people a day reading them, you’re probably talking about 400-700 blogs (From what I’ve seen, that estimate is more likely to be high than low). Of that number, I am going to guess that the top 20 blogs get far, far more traffic than the rest of the blogosphere combined.
So, by seeding the blogs that have already climbed up through the ranks, you’re giving the people who have already proven they have what it takes, more capital to do what they do. What will they do with the money? Maybe it will allow them to go full time. Maybe they can do advertising, do site redesigns, hire new talent, afford to go to some conferences and network with other conservatives on new ideas, etc., etc., etc.
Why do that?
1) You double the size of those 20 blogs and you have effectively doubled the size of the blogosphere and having a bigger audience reading conservative blogs is good for the movement.
2) If I were running such a program, the one condition I would put in place would be that the recipients of the money would have to rattle the cup for Republican candidates of their choice at regular intervals starting 6 months before the election. My guess is that condition would help Republican candidates raise more money than the grants cost in the first place.
Over at Open Market, they write
As Fred Smith says, the challenge is to make good policy good politics. Just because we’re right, doesn’t mean we have to lose.
UPDATE: Chris asks below what form this would take. Good question. Are we just going to copy the left? I hope not. Innovation is needed, so any and all ideas gratefully accepted. Feel free to chime in below.
I think it’s important that people realize that we can only map out a strategy at this point in the broadest of terms because so much of the terrain is unknown.
Will Republicans in D.C. see the handwriting on the wall and move back to the right or will they continue to demoralize the base by trying to continue to be the “Democrat light” party? Are conservatives going to flock online if Obama gets in the White House? Are any deep pocket donors going to try to help the Rightroots go in the right direction? Will we start to see some of the heavy hitters in the conservative movement — like Rush Limbaugh, National Review, and Sean Hanity — start to make an effort to help promote some of the bloggers online? Could the Fairness Doctrine drive conservatives off talk radio and onto the net? Could political video or podcasting really take off and could conservatives go that way? Is it possible that an Obama administration would try to stifle free speech online by cracking down on blogs? There are more questions than answers on these points.
Long story short, if the energy levels in the conservative movement go back up and if people start putting energy and effort into the right side of the blogosphere, it will get moving again, but it’s hard to predict exactly where it will go.
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